Again from the Plan: ”The fourth of the encircling highways begins at Evanston, and passes through Niles to Des Plaines, and along the Des Plaines River to Riverside; all this part of the way, being wooded on the borders of the water, is very beautiful in its present condition. From Riverside, this highway runs through Chicago Ridge to Robey or Blue Island, and from thence to the Lake, over routes already mentioned.” Click here to see a modern-day routing of this inner encircling highway, which can be followed in nearly the routing envisioned by the Plan.
”It will be noted that the diagram provides not only for encircling highways, but also for roads running directly to the heart of Chicago from every important town or village. And it will also be noted that nearly every stretch of roadway shown on the diagram already exists as a more or less satisfactory country road, the dotted lines indicating proposed changes or links. The system as outlined is complete, and it meets every present demand of road building for such extensive environs as those of Chicago. It is confidently believed that in the course of the next few years every mile of these highways will be improved in the best manner, and that thus Chicago ultimately will come to possess a network of surface thoroughfares equal to the requirements of future generations.”
”A satisfactory method of running highways is to parallel the railroads. The work-road should be next to the right-of-way; then should come the carriage driveway. Where electric railroads exist, or are projected on thoroughfares, the most agreeable treatment is found in setting apart for the tracks a space which may be grassed over and well shaded. Besides adding to the comfort of the passengers, the uninterrupted use of the tracks permits high speed and thereby saves time. The improvement of the three roadways as a unit, with the appropriate planting, would give a charm to suburban travel where now there is none, while at the same time expenses of maintenance would be lessened. As a rule, the creation of highways along railroads involves only the bare cost of inexpensive land and the building of the road. The railroads are in themselves great diagonals; and by following them the shortest lines between important points are secured.”
Clearly, the Plan of Burnham and Bennett envisioned country boulevards and parkways that would be part of a transportation network including local rail transit and long-distance passenger rail service. This integrated approach made sense from their 1909 viewpoint, since it utilized the vast existing surface transportation network that Illinois had at its disposal—a network the planners could not expect would be systematically and purposefully dismantled over the next sixty years.
While portions of metropolitan Chicago are still served by commuter rail and Amtrak, this service is a small vestige of the rail transit available to the travelers of 1909, even though the population to be served now is much greater and is more widely dispersed across the entire geographical area.
Also important to the spirit of the Plan is that the highways be esthetically pleasing as well as functional. “The drainage should be perfect, so that pools of stagnant water shall not be an offense to the eye and a menace to health. The unsightly billboard should be replaced by shrubbery or by a wall; and the entire space should be free from the litter of papers or the accumulations of dirt and ashes.” Early examples of roads built in the spirit of the Plan include Wacker Drive, notable for its two levels to separate commercial traffic and its ornamental balustrades, and Lake Shore Drive, which in its earliest manifestations incorporated the values of a country nature drive into an urban setting. Care is given to ensure that the qualities of the locality are visible to those using the road, and that the road’s structures themselves—bridges, retaining walls, and guard rails, for example—have a pleasing and artistic appearance.
In the main, today’s superslabs have artistic grace only when viewed from a great distance, as in an aerial photograph. To the automobile traveler using the highway, the structures are functional and workmanlike, showing little thought to beautification. Their limited access also limits the ability of the traveler to understand the character of the locality through which one is traveling. They are built for speed and safety; they purposely remove traffic from contact with the surrounding area except at access points. They are the antithesis of highways envisioned by Burnham and Bennett in the Plan of Chicago
It is understandable why today’s planners conclude that superhighways like I-355 are necessities, since there are currently few alternatives to motor vehicles for our personal transport and freight hauling. However, invoking the name of Daniel Burnham as if he envisioned our superslabs shows a lack of understanding of the purpose and details of the Plan of Chicago. It is at worst purposefully false, and at best ignorantly misleading.
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